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The Intrinsic Value of Green Space

Sunday’s Boston Globe commemorated the 150th anniversary of Frederick Law Olmsted’s plans for Yosemite Valley. Olmsted, who designed Central Park and Boston's Emerald Necklace, advocated for accessibility and stewardship of nature for the benefit of all.

From Courtney Humphries' article:

Today we think of parks largely as recreational spaces and nature preserves, but in the 19th century they had a social and political mission. Government’s duty, Olmsted wrote, was to protect individual citizens’ “pursuit of happiness.” Olmsted had a longstanding belief that nature had a profound effect on people’s psychology — that it gave people pleasure and increased their capacity for happiness. But access to nature and recreation is “a monopoly, in a very peculiar manner, of a very few very rich people,” he wrote. “The great mass of society, including those to whom it would be of the greatest benefit, is excluded from it.”

This thinking led to putting Blue Hills, Middlesex Fells, and Revere Beach under state protection for public use.

Olmstead’s ideas are still valid. His “perceptions about the role of nature in well-being are still alive in a growing body of public health research," and

the Olmstedian notion of accessibility is finding a new life in people like Rebecca Stanfield McCown, acting director of the NPS Stewardship Institute in Vermont. She’s helping lead an initiative called the Urban Agenda, which aims to make better use of the National Park Service’s significant network of urban parks as a gateway into the entire system. “If we’re not making those connections with people at home, then we’re going to be losing out on a generation of supporters and advocates for wilderness preservation,” Stanfield says. “We need to be relevant to their daily lives and not just their vacations.”

Thanks to Ms. Humphries for reminding us of the intrinsic value of green space.

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